The blast-off marked a successful launch for China in a mission that will test its bid to become a major power in space.
The unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft was sent into orbit from northwestern China, another step in a programme that aims to build a full space laboratory that can house astronauts – the Chinese call them ‘yuhangyuans’ – for long stretches.
After a couple of days, 340 kilometres above the earth, the Shenzhou 8 will attempt to join the Tiangong 1 module launched in September, before they circle the globe together. If successful, it will be the first time China has joined two space vehicles together.
Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China’s manned space programme, said Beijing was working with Germany under an agreement signed in 2008.
“Shenzhou 8 is equipped with biological cultivation experimental devices including bio-incubators provided by Germany and controlling and docking devices provided by China. This equipment will enable Chinese and German scientists to conduct 17 research programmes aboard Shenzhou 8,” she said.
The cooperation is expected to help Chinese astronauts and engineers prepare for future manned space missions. Next year, Shenzhou 9 is due to be launched with a three-member crew.
China hopes to build its space station by about 2020 – a smaller one than the International Space Station jointly operated by the US, Russia and other countries.
Eight years after the first Chinese manned space mission, Beijing has its sights set on the moon – with plans for an unmanned landing next year and a possible manned mission in the future.